With teacher shortages in rural school districts across West Tex - FOX34 Lubbock

With teacher shortages in rural school districts across West Texas, virtual classrooms may be on the way

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LUBBOCK, Texas -

West Texas is running out of educators, as teachers and administrators from rural school districts brainstormed at Texas Tech Wednesday morning to discuss potential solutions to fill this shortage. 

Doug Hamman, the chair of Texas Tech's teacher preparation department, said new, innovative programs are necessary in turning the teacher deficit around.  

"I believe traditional approaches to teacher preparation have largely failed in terms of providing needs for rural school districts. Our model of a regional university that prepares teachers for a particular area is just not working, so districts need additional resources, they need individuals who are from their community and be able to come back to the community and serve as teachers," Hamman said. 

Hamman said one alternative schools are looking at is implementing virtual teachers. He added the evolution of technology could help make this happen sooner, rather than later.

"The economy is such that individuals opt not to become teachers just for pure economic reasons. So this is a way to have a teacher in the classroom and provide instruction to students. It's not ideal and I know the districts doesn't think it's ideal, but right now it's one of those solutions that they're looking at as a possibility," Hamman said.

Crosbyton ISD Superintendent Shawn Mason said the backbone of student success is the relationships built with teachers inside the classroom, not from a video. 

"The number one determining factor in what makes the kid successful is that teacher in front of that classroom. You can't replace that relationship. The relationships our teachers build with our kids builds to success, and there is no way to bridge that gap through technology. I really think a one-on-one relationship with the teacher, relationship with the parents, it's all tied together to making that kid successful," Mason said.

Mason said a teacher prep program at Tech called "Grow Your Own" is another potential solution to this shortage.

"With the two plus one program, it's a fast track program. You can go through a community college, come to Texas Tech, or any other university and get your core classes out of the way, about 66 hours. Then you can come join our Tech program, and in one year's time, you can finish your bachelor's degree and do an intensive one-year internship on our campus. After that year, you'll have a bachelor's degree and teacher certification, and we'll put you right in the classroom and put you to work," Mason said.

Hamman said the program could help bridge the gap between the disadvantages rural school districts have, compared to urban districts. 

"The difference I think in many ways is that the large, urban districts have additional resources to pull from, whereas the rural school districts often don't have the additional human capital in the community to become teachers. So this program is a way to overcome some of the barriers that individuals in the community and the smaller communities might face in terms of their pathway to becoming a teacher," Hamman said.

The "Grow Your Own" program is currently active partners with 14 districts across the state.

Hamman said virtual teachers may be the alternative if additional efforts fail to follow through.

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